Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II

Hey everyone! Check out this book: Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II. Included inside are eight thrilling stories. And wouldn’t you know it, I’m one of the guest authors. That’s right! I wrote a story called Curse of the Conquistador, an adventure about three kids trapped in their dad’s museum while they’re being haunted by the ghost of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado. And you can read it if you purchase this book!

My story isn’t the only awesomeness you’ll get your grubby hands on. You’ll also be treated to seven additional tales guaranteed to set your heart racing. Inside you’ll find femme fatales, mysterious islands, deadly dream worlds, and classic pulp style adventures featuring Captain Gideon Argo, Captain Bullshark Dempsey, Black 23 Agent Dorian Drood, and demon fighter Dominic Ashwood and the wolf shamans Waylon and Jester.

But wait, there’s more! Pulp legend Ron Goulart has one of his stories printed within. Ron has been writing award-winning sci-fi/fantasy stories and novels since the 1970s. It’s way cool to have one of my stories included with such an iconic author.

Lock your door, brew some coffee, and light a candle. Then open this book and prepare to be thrilled! Simply click HERE or on the picture below to get your copy now! I’ve also added the book to my BOOKS page, so you can browse this site to get access, too.

Adventures in the Arcane, Volume II

Vacation Time!

It’s that time of year when my family enjoys time off from school and work. That usually means I don’t write as much, too. You would think my writing time would increase, but I get wrapped up in trips to the zoo, aquarium, big cities and baseball games. I tend to play as much golf as I can, enjoy the beach with the kids–plus we stay up too late and sleep too late. Ah, summer time is great.

I have family in Texas. We’re spending a couple weeks with them around the Houston area. We’ve enjoyed an Astros baseball game, a day at the zoo, another at an aquarium, played several rounds of golf, gamed at an arcade, gone to the movies, and the kids even had a snowball fight. Meanwhile, our hometown in Panama City Beach has been rained out for days on end. We got a bit lucky. But the storm causing much of the rain might hit here in Texas in the next day or so. Keeping fingers crossed we don’t get too much rain.

Amidst all the fun, I have managed to work on my next novel, but only for a brief bit. Medical Mech is slated to release this September. All of my test readers have returned their manuscripts, and I have several areas to work on in order to improve the story before publication. Fortunately, the kids LOVED the book and there isn’t a ton to do; but the areas needing work will require careful tweaking.

Anyway, that’s what has been going on with me since school let out a couple weeks ago. How are you spending your summer?

Top 5 Video Games of all Time (Part Two)

In my last blog post, I talked about my top 5 favorite video games of all time based on story. In this post, I will share my top 5 favorite games based on gameplay mechanics. So here we go…

Top 5 Video Games: Gameplay

5. Halo: Combat Evolved. When the Xbox was gearing up for release back in 2001, I was skeptical. At E3 (one of the biggest video game conventions in the world), Microsoft announced their console’s “killer app,” a game they touted would sell millions. When I saw that the game was a first-person shooter, I scoffed. What the heck was Microsoft thinking? Didn’t they know players preferred role-playing games like Final Fantasy VII? Boy, was I wrong. The game turned out to be great. I spent hours playing the single player campaign. But where the game truly shined was in its LAN capabilities. If you’re not familiar with LAN, it involves connecting four Xboxes up to one another so you can play with up to 16 people at once. LAN parties became a thing. You’d invite your friends over, tell them to bring their Xboxes, stock your fridge with drinks and snacks, then prepare for hours of fun. Online games today lack the fellowship Halo: Combat Evolved offered. I miss those days.

Halo

4. Devil May Cry. Man, the year 2001 was a great year for gaming. Although this game’s story is kind of blah, its gameplay is fast, stylish and fun. You play as Dante–a demon hunter who is half human, half demon himself–toting two semi-automatic pistols named Ebony and Ivory, and a huge great sword named Rebellion. Everything about Dante screams cool, from his weapons to his red trench coat. He fights demons with style as he juggles combos and performs insane aerial maneuvers. I probably beat this game three times in a row just to enjoy its addictive gameplay.

Devil May Cry

3. Horizon: Zero Dawn. This game likely made the list because I’m still on cloud nine from playing it the last couple months. You play as Aloy, an outcast who travels the land in search of answers to her past. During her journey, you fight massive robot dinosaurs with impressive bows and arrows. Each robot has weaknesses to exploit. At first, I was overwhelmed going up against the machines, but as I learned to target their components and weapon systems, I found the gameplay to be enjoyable and strategic. Plus, it’s fast-paced, the graphics are insane, and the story is awesome. Horizon almost made the top 5 list for best games based on story, too.

Horizon Zero Dawn

2. Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. I know many of you out there reading this post have played Skyrim. For you, that game would probably be ranked higher than Morrowind. I’m here to say Morrowind is better. Now, I must clarify that Morrowind was the first time I had ever played a massive, free-choice game. You can literally create a character however you want, from his avatar to your play style. When I first roamed the land, I couldn’t even kill a rat who attacked me on the road. It took several swipes of my dagger to finally slay the creature. But by the end of the game, I could defeat any foe with blade, bow or magic…and I could fly. Holy cow. I went from nothing to the most powerful being in the world. Sorry, but you can’t fly in Skyrim. Not unless you play the PC version and add Mods.

Morrowind

1. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. How could an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) not make the list? If you’ve ever played a game like World of Warcraft, then you know how addicting the gameplay can be. Of all the games I have ever played, I have logged more hours in the world of Eorzea than any other. I play as Vosslar, a level 60 elezen bard/paladin/white mage/you name it. One of the great things about the game is you can play multiple classes. I have a tank, a healer, and a DPS (damage per second) character. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, then you’ve likely never played a game like this. What’s so addicting about FFXIV’s gameplay is the online element. Through the game, I am connected with thousands of players. Together, we can form parties and tackle dungeons, monsters and high-level raids. Gamers are typically a nerdy group, but MMO players are the nerds of the nerds.

Final Fantasy XIV

Well, that’s a wrap on this discussion. Those are my top 5 favorite video games based on gameplay mechanics. What are your favorite games? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

Top 5 Video Games of all Time: Gameplay vs. Story

I worked as a Gamestop game advisor during my early twenties. One of the most fun topics to discuss with coworkers and customers was our favorite games. Games, like movies, are subjective, so the following list of games are what I consider to be the best. You might disagree. Great. Let’s talk about your favorite games, too. That’s part of the fun. I have broken my list into two blog posts–one for games that had the best stories, and another for games with the best gameplay mechanics. Today, we’ll focus on story. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started already!

Top 5 Video Games: Story

5. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I loved this game when it released back in November, 2001. The introductory tanker chapter alone is worth the price of admission. The story follows Solid Snake as he attempts to thwart nuclear disaster, but following an explosion Snake is believed dead. Two years later, a terrorist group takes over an oil rig and holds hostages–and one of them is the U.S. President’s daughter. Their leader goes by the name Solid Snake. Whoa, plot twist! You play as Raiden, a covert soldier who must sneak into the rig, rescue the hostages, and uncover the mystery behind Snake’s disappearance and treason. Pretty cool story.

Metal Gear Solid 2

4. Final Fantasy XII. This game came out October, 2006. My wife and I were newly married. I can still remember the night I beat the game, because my wife worked all evening long on a college paper while I stayed up and played FFXII. Procrastinator. She should have completed her paper early like I did. The game follows orphan, Vann, as war looms on the horizon. The Archadian Empire is invading neighboring kingdoms, and Vann’s home of Dalmasca is next. When Dalmasca’s king is assassinated, Vann, a sky pirate, an exiled knight, and a princess thought dead must uncover the mystery behind the Archadian Empire’s invasion in order to restore their home. It’s a political tale filled with intrigue, airships, and war. I highly recommend the game. It’s being re-released this summer for Playstation 4.

Final Fantasy XII

3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. I’m a huge fan of the Uncharted series (and Final Fantasy, if you haven’t noticed). The games have a winning combination–great stories and fun gameplay. A Thief’s End came out May, 2016. The story follows treasure hunter Nathan Drake after he comes out of retirement for one last adventure–to go on a dangerous quest for Henry Avery’s pirate treasure with his brother, Sam. In the world of video games, the Uncharted games are your summer blockbusters. Big productions and epic stories. But Uncharted 4 is the best.

Uncharted 4

2. Final Fantasy X. This game came out December, 2001. I was still living at home with mom and dad. I had no responsibilities other than working part-time, and my classwork at Gulf Coast. Which meant I could play FFX all night long and not worry about getting up early the next day. Man, times sure have changed. The story follows Tidus, a superstar Blitzball athlete, as he is swept away from his world and transported to a mysterious land known as Spira. There, he meets a young summoner named Yuna who must journey to acquire a powerful spell from a place called Zanarkand–the name of Tidus’ hometown. The city was destroyed 1,000 years earlier by a creature called Sin. Yuna seeks to destroy Sin. Tidus tags along to help Yuna, and to discover the mystery of what happened to him and his home. It’s an emotional coming of age story filled with love and a twist ending on par with the movie, The Sixth Sense.

Final Fantasy X

1. Vagrant Story. Of all the games I’ve ever played, this one by far has the best story. The game came out May, 2000; and to be honest, I didn’t pick it up right away. It wasn’t until about 2002 I finally gave the game a shot. The story follows Ashley Riot, a Riskbreaker tasked with rescuing a kidnapped boy from a religious zealot named Sydney Losstarot. To save the boy, Ashley must travel to a magical city destroyed twenty-five years earlier by unnatural earthquakes. But Ashley isn’t the only person inside the city. Knights of the Crimson Blades, as well as other agents pursuing their own agendas, are also on the hunt for Sydney. If this premise sounds familiar, it is. When I wrote The Prophet of the Dragon, I considered what I loved about Vagrant Story and tried to recreate a similar feel. Some of those elements include a medieval stealth soldier, a religious zealot who kidnaps a boy and takes him to mysterious city, and knights in pursuit with their own sinister agenda. It goes without saying, I LOVE this game.

Vagrant Story

So those are my top 5 favorite games of all time…based on story. Next time, I’ll share my top 5 favorite games based on gameplay mechanics. So what are your favorite video game stories? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

Outlining vs. Free Writing

Writing Picture

I hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day weekend. I spent the morning with the kids at the beach. We had a lot of fun building sand castles and swimming. Now the kids are napping, and I’m sitting down to write the final chapters of Maddie Jones and the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors. Well, I’m not really writing the final chapters, just outlining a first draft. I’m excited how the story has turned out so far. Maddie’s first adventure is an archaeological thrill ride filled with history, suspense and twists, a few laughs and, I hope, likable characters and detestable villains.

In the past, I have recruited test readers to give me feedback on my manuscripts. For the first novel in the Maddie Jones series, I might recruit test readers to critique my outline. We’ll see. I’m not sure at the moment. It would be a strange process, but the outline reads like an abbreviated version of the story. My outlines aren’t typically so put together, but I’m currently a Master Class student with James Patterson. He devoted two whole lessons to the outlining process. Patterson calls outlines his “secret weapon.” He typically spends two months on an outline before he sits down to write the novel. By having a solid outline filled with suspense and the right amount of pacing, he’s able to write a story that draws you in and makes you keep turning pages.

I got to say, after creating the first Maddie Jones book in this way–outlining the story from start to finish, scene by scene–I will likely never write another story like I did before. With my previous novels and short stories, I often wrote a brief outline, then filled in the gaps with free writing as I went. James Patterson says, “Don’t do this.” He believes your story won’t be as suspenseful and engaging if you go in blind; or, as in my case, partially blind.

Now, I know there is no right or wrong way to tell a story. There are writers out there who will disagree with Patterson. But have they sold 300 million copies of their books? Um, more than likely not. If you want to be successful, I believe you should learn from the best and emulate what they did. I am now convinced thorough outlining is effective. It frees me to simply tell the story and not worry about flashy sentences. I can see why Patterson recommends it so strongly. Will his tips make me successful? Who knows. But Maddie Jones and the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors is a better story because of it.

Writers Don’t Get Downtime

Well, my next novel is currently in the hands of test readers. A couple copies have trickled back in, and so far the kids are enjoying Medical MECH. Once I have everyone’s feedback, I plan to revisit the manuscript for rewrites and edits. Afterwards, I’ll send the story out to agents and keep my fingers crossed that it will get picked up. In the meantime, I’ve started my next project: The Adventures of Maddie Jones.

If you’ve ever read anything on writing, or heard a successful author answer this question: What should I do if I want to become a writer? They will almost unanimously say to write, write, and write some more. Read a lot, and read different genres. So that’s what I do. I rarely have downtime between projects. I finish one and immediately move on to the next. Although Medical MECH is nearing completion (well, it’s nearly complete as far as the manuscript is concerned. Publication is a whole other beast), I have ideas for new stories that are itching to be told.

My newest project is a five book series for young adult readers. The series name is The Adventures of Maddie Jones. Each book will follow Maddie as she journeys to uncover mysteries of the past. The stories will be thrillers told in a James Patterson style–short chapters and a fast-paced narrative. Maddie’s “voice” will be akin to Percy Jackson’s from The Lightning Thief. I’ve diligently been working on book one’s outline, and it’s coming along nicely so far. At the moment, I’m wrapping up the third act. The outline will take several edits and rewrites to make it a solid start, but I’m excited to begin writing once the outline is complete. If you’re curious, here are the individual titles for each book:

  1. Maddie Jones and the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors
  2. Maddie Jones and the Grave of Robin Hood
  3. Maddie Jones and the Doomed Knights of the Round
  4. Maddie Jones and the Ghost of Coronado
  5. Maddie Jones and the Inca Mummy of Ecuador

I’ve written the story synopsis for each book. For now, check out book one’s premise:

When business tycoon Rico Raja kidnaps Hank Jones, a museum curator who deciphered an ancient text involving the Terracotta Warriors, his teenage daughter Maddie must uncover the secrets behind the greatest archaeological discovery of the twentieth-century in order to save him. But when those secrets reveal a 2,000 year old curse, and Rico’s plan to release the soul of the First Qin Emperor of China, Maddie must seek allies in the unlikeliest of places—from a Terracotta Warrior who has come to life, General Li Fei. Perhaps Maddie should call the National Guard, or the Army, or the Ghostbusters, because things are getting out of hand.

What are your thoughts on this new project? Which book title draws you in the most? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email.

When History Meets Gaming

I’m currently working on a young adult novel called Maddie Jones & the Curse of the Terracotta Warriors. The book is the first in a five book series. As the name implies, archaeology and history are a staple of the stories–each book will follow Maddie on her adventures as she uncovers mysteries from the past. Think Indiana Jones meets Percy Jackson, and you’ll get an idea of the story direction. Anyway, this writing project has led me to dive into the latest Tomb Raider game. Plus, one year ago Uncharted 4 came out, so I’m itching for a historical thrill ride.

The game has been a lot of fun so far. The story follows Lara Croft as she attempts to unravel the mysteries behind the Divine Source–an ancient artifact said to grant immortality. Her father sought the artifact throughout the course of his life, but came up empty-handed. Now Lara has uncovered a missing piece to the puzzle, and she’s off to raid tombs and discover lost cities.

But she’s not the only person seeking the artifact. Trinity, an organization reputed to be thousands of years old, is also on the hunt–and they’ll kill anyone who gets in their way. Can Lara overcome an entire band of mercenaries and unravel the past to discover what her dad could not?

The answer is…I don’t know yet. I’m only a few hours into the game, but I’ll let you know once I’ve finished the ride. So what are you playing? Leave a comment or shoot me an email and let me know.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Check out the new Fan Art page!

That’s right. Fan art keeps coming in. Kids are loving the new book, and they’re expressing their enjoyment in super cool art. Check out the page HERE. Or click on the tab across the bar at the top.

If you’ve got fan art you’d like to submit, head over to the Contact page and shoot me an email.

Medical MECH Fan Art (AMAZING)

Artist: Andrea Putre

Kids are Talented, Continued

A couple days ago, I shared artist Andrea’s character art for Medical MECH. Today, I figured I would showcase a former student’s writing. I’m a U.S. History and Civics teacher, on top of being an author, but from time to time I also teach Creative Writing. This story was written several years ago by a student named Hector. It’s called The Wizard. Enjoy, and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

“I sure hope this works,” said the wizard, as he stepped off the cliff. As the wizard was falling, he said some magic words: “Hokus, pokus, robababa lobus!” and a broom appeared at the wizard’s feet. He said with hope in his voice, “Fly!” But the broom did not fly. It was just there being a broom. The wizard kept trying different commands, but the broom refused to fly. He looked at the ground, which he was about to hit, then he looked at his broom, and he cursed it. 

Splat! went the wizard. Then the broom came to life and cleaned up the mess.  

Wizard

Kids are Talented

I am thrilled to share Andrea’s fan art for Medical MECH. She did a stellar job portraying both Riley and Natalia, the two main characters from the novel. What really stoked me about her work is that it was the first time I got to see Natalia. Up until this point, she has only existed in my mind and on the written page. When I saw this piece, I couldn’t stop smiling–and I couldn’t stop staring at Natalia, because Andrea nailed her look to a T. Awesome job!

Rob Woodrum, the insanely talented artist who has drawn all of my book covers, hasn’t fleshed her out yet. But he was proud to say he is inspired by what Andrea has done with the character’s art direction. He will likely compare his work to hers as he creates Natalia from my story descriptions. Way cool! Rob is a commercial artist who has honed his craft over years of experience. Did I say Andrea is only about eleven or twelve years old? Wow! Andrea, keep drawing, writing, and inspiring others! You rock!

Medical MECH Fan Art (AMAZING)